Vietnam parade marks 40 years since Tet Offensive
HANOI - Vietnam on Friday marked 40 years since the Tet Offensive with colourful military parades of its veterans and re-enactments of the surprise wave of urban assaults that marked a turning point in the war.
Communist Party leaders and military chiefs watched as former guerrillas and regular soldiers filed past Ho Chi Minh City's Reunification Palace, formerly the presidential palace of the US-backed Saigon regime ousted in 1975.
Youths in black Viet Cong pajamas with models of AK-47 assault rifles and rocket launchers joined the parade, as did women carrying fruit baskets on shoulder poles, recalling the way arms and bombs were smuggled into the city.
"The 1968 Tet Offensive opened a new page in the Vietnam war and struck a blow to the imperialist Americans' will to continue their aggression," said Le Thanh Hai, using the rhetoric of the Communist Party he heads in the city.
"It is one of the most glorious chapters in Vietnam's history."
More than 10,000 veterans, service members and volunteers took part in the parade, which also marked the 78th anniversary next Sunday of what was called the Indochina Communist Party when it was founded on February 3, 1930.
On the podium were Vietnam's Communist Party chief Nong Duc Manh, and Nguyen Thi Binh, who signed the 1973 Paris peace accords for the southern Provisional Revolutionary Government and later became vice-president of reunified Vietnam.
The Tet Offensive started with several attacks on January 30, but was launched in earnest in the early hours of January 31, 40 years ago Thursday.
Some 70,000 communist fighters attacked targets in more than 100 towns and cities in South Vietnam, including the former US embassy and the palace.
The audacious offensive, which violated a truce marking the traditional Tet Lunar New Year, caught US and South Vietnamese forces off-guard.
Although tens of thousands of communist soldiers were killed, it proved a psychological victory by strengthening the US anti-war movement.
"The Tet Offensive was a disaster in many respects," said Vietnam expert Carl Thayer of the Australian Defence Force Academy. "The southern communist underground was exposed and decimated. No general uprising occurred.
"But the offensive had unintended consequences that were not part of communist planning. Specifically, US President Lyndon Johnson ordered to stop bombing over the North, opened negotiations in Paris and declared he would not run again."
To mark the anniversary, propaganda posters have been put up across Vietnam's largest city, kicking off the celebrations that culminated in the pomp of Friday's nationally televised parade.
For Vietnam, which remains a communist one-party state, "these ceremonies serve to demonstrate that the party has always been correct in its strategic assessments and has brilliantly executed military strategy," said Thayer.
Agence France Presse - February 1, 2008.
40 years after Tet, top VC cadre remembers Paris peace talks
Forty years after the Tet Offensive marked a turning point in the Vietnam war, a signatory to the Paris peace accords remembers the gruelling five-year talks that ended the US role in the conflict.
Nguyen Thi Binh, a life-long revolutionary and energetic lady at 80, signed the 1973 peace accords for the southern Provisional Revolutionary Government and later served for 10 years as vice president of reunified communist Vietnam.
Speaking from her Hanoi office, where she now heads the Vietnam Peace and Development Foundation, she recalled how the January 31, 1968 Tet Offensive against Saigon, Hue and over 100 other southern targets turned around the war.
"The Tet Offensive was decisive in showing the Americans that with the war, they couldn't reach the objective they had set for themselves," she said. "The Tet Offensive made the Americans come to the negotiating table."
The wave of surprise attacks, launched during the Tet lunar New Year, was a military defeat but stunned US forces and fuelled the American peace movement.
By late March, a weakened US President Lyndon Johnson offered to start talks and said he would not seek another term in office, while ordering a partial halt to bombing of North Vietnam which he would follow by ordering a complete cessation in October.
The talks opened in Paris, the capital of Vietnam's former colonial power, on May 10, 1968, with the US delegation hopeful of reaching a quick deal.
Instead, the painstaking negotiations would drag on for five years, during which the war escalated as both sides adopted a strategy of "fighting while talking," hoping to translate battlefield wins into bargaining power.
The communists, determined to reunify Vietnam, had time on their side, while US leaders, weakened by the anti-war movement, cut their troop presence year by year, which in turn reduced their diplomatic strength.
Paris, in the grip of the May '68 protests, "was a very happy choice, favourable to our activities," said Binh, recalling the support of the French Communist Party.
The Paris talks were soon deadlocked amid incompatible positions -- Washington demanded North Vietnam withdraw its troops from the South, while Hanoi insisted the southern Viet Cong be allowed to join the negotiations.
Johnson's successor Richard Nixon did not envisage victory but ruled out defeat, determined to achieve "peace with honour" and avoid becoming "the first president of the United States to lose a war," as he later said.
Even as he brought home US troops amid the war's "Vietnamisation," Nixon also ordered the secret bombing of Cambodia from 1969 and the Christmas bombings of Hanoi and Haiphong in 1972, on the eve of the peace agreement.
The communists, too, had escalated the war, taking appalling human losses for territorial gains in the 1972 Spring Offensive against southern troops, who were by now fighting with vastly diminished US support.
"The liberated zone grew larger, and on the political and diplomatic fronts the movement against the American war was growing," said Binh.
As formal peace talks dragged on, the key negotiators -- then US national security advisor Henry Kissinger and Hanoi politburo member Le Duc Tho -- had started secret meetings on the outskirts of Paris.
"The real negotiations are never conducted in public," said Binh. "Secret talks started when the Americans saw they wanted to arrive at a true solution."
The Paris agreement was signed January 27, 1973 -- 35 years ago last Sunday.
All sides agreed to a ceasefire, US troops pledged to withdraw within 60 days, their prisoners were freed, and North and South Vietnam were to peacefully work toward national reunification.
Kissinger and Tho were awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize, but Tho refused to accept it, saying his country was not yet at peace.
With no political settlement, fighting flared up again and Hanoi breached the Paris agreement, sending its regular troops south.
US support faded as America turned its back on the divisive war and Nixon, who had assured the South of protection, resigned over the Watergate scandal.
In 1975, communist troops launched their final all-out offensive, taking cities in quick succession until the April 30 fall of Saigon ended the war that had killed more than 58,000 Americans and at least three million Vietnamese.
Macau Daily Times - February 1, 2008.